Commodore_Format_PowerPack_15_1991-12In December 1991 C64 software was insanely big in the UK, if not for the reasons you might think. The industry was excited about the European release of the SNES in the coming Spring, but they also saw it as the final nail in the 8-bit coffin. Games on the Speccy, CPC and C64 rained down in time for Christmas as a result, with softies convinced it was their last chance to squeeze some juice out of the machines. This month’s mag swelled to 90 pages from the 66 it had settled at over the summer, buoyed by the extra advertising. You can read more about the month’s mag here, but right now on the tape pages we’ll be talking about how a cracking Power Pack benefited from all this and unpacking some of the tape’s secrets. There’s also a rare CF controversy. Ready? Let’s go, friends.

ELVIRA: THE ARCADE GAME

If you read our Power Pack 14 article, you’ll know that Elvira: The Arcade Game was supposed to be the cover star and cassette lead on last month’s abandoned Halloween special. Elvira was popular in 1991 in an under the radar sort of way, but she wasn’t in the same league as the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. When Future mags were  offered an amphibian exclusive, they couldn’t resist:  the heroes in a half shell got the cover, and Elvira was put on hold for four weeks.

BIT OF BACKGROUND

Elvira is a horror character played by American actress Cassandra Peterson. She’d messed around with the idea for years, but first got famous with Elvira when a Los Angeles TV station gave her the job of introducing scary movies every weekend. Her vampish appearance was offset by her LOL-ish adventures and quick wit. She was an immediate hit and quickly went on to work for MTV, giving her a worldwide audience. Movies, comic books and computer games came pretty quickly off the back of it.

Newcastle’s Flair Software (later Microvalue) got the rights to her stuff in Britain around 1990, releasing two Elvira games in 1991. The first, Mistress of The Dark, was an epic and graphically impressive point and click like the stuff you find on the Amiga. It was disk only, though, so here was the first chance for the majority of British C64-ers to jump in to her world.

And what a big world it is. Even this one-level demo is massive. At the start of the game, you’re told that you need to prove yourself sufficiently spooky to inherit the family home; to do that, you have to leap around three mahoosive worlds casting spells and killing nasties with daggers and whatever else you find. There are levers to pull, keys to find and trap doors to open. CF‘s 82% review reckons there are “weeks and weeks” of exploration, which probably isn’t true by the standards of 2019 as we write this. In 1991, though, you’ve got to remember a lot of games could be finished in ten or fifteen minutes flat. Big was unusual.

What’s really noticeable when we loaded up this demo is how beautifully Elvira’s sprite moves. She’s animated very well and can leap, glide or shuffle as little or as much as the situation requires. You actually somehow feel like you’re controlling a body in Elvira: The Arcade Game, with the sprite’s weight and the force of gravity being felt as you change direction mid-jump. It’s unlike anything else on the C64 we can think of, and almost  impossible to describe.

The puzzle in this demo is well thought out and solving it is achievable, with fire spitting mutants and giant wasps trying to thwart your progress. As with the full game, its strength could also be perceived as a downfall: it’s so huge it can sometimes feel a bit empty. But Elvira is a likeable, playable and fun thing to play. It never seems to make the lists of greatest platformers, so take this as your nudge to go and check it out. PACK FACT: A third adventure came in 1992. The Jaws of Cerberus was another pointy clicky Amiga-ish thing, though, with an Amiga price tag too. £24!

DANDY

“If you’re a fan of games in the Gauntlet mould”, read CF‘s instructions, “you’re going to flip when you load up Dandy“. Ah, poor Dandy. A game whose impressive legacy wasn’t known in the ’90s and isn’t really very well known now. The truth – confirmed in 2012 by Atari’s Ed Logg – is that Dandy was the direct inspiration for Gauntlet rather than the other way around. He co-created Gauntlet, so it’s safe to say that this story is watertight.

The name Dandy is a play on the common abbreviation of Dungeons and Dragons, D+D. The game originally appeared on the Atari 8-bits in 1983, reaching the C64 via Electric Dreams three years later.

Both Atari and ED dubbed it a ‘dungeon crawl’, but when you boil it down it’s a one or two-player flick-screen maze game. Thor and Sheba are the two main characters, locked underground in a ghostly and bug-infested prison made up of fifteen levels. Your energy is set at 1000 points; your challenge is to escape intact before you reach zero. As you wander you’ll find keys, food and spells. If you’ve got a key it’ll open the right door automatically and you can progress to new parts of the map. Food tops up your energy and you can cast spells to paralyse oncoming angry monks (it’s not clear why they’re monks or angry), demon heads and spiders. Later on things get fancier, and you can do stuff like teleport – but you get the drift and you’ve played Gauntlet right? Right. It’s like that.

Except it isn’t. Gauntlet took the idea of Dandy and did it way better. Once you’ve seen what this sort of game can be like on the Commodore you don’t want to play a cut-down version. The mono, Speccy-ish graphics and slow speed don’t help and neither does the fact that Nick Pelling had just a few weeks to port this one over to the beige box. It’s also been reported in recent years that the game always crashes at certain points, though that isn’t something we were able to recreate. Dandy is worth a look for novelty value, at least, and to gander at Gauntlet‘s origins. PACK FACT: The game’s engine was inspired by John Conway’s Game of Life. Er – you’ll need to Google to get your head around that one!

EQUINOX

This is the full version of an adventure shoot ’em up blend from 1986 by Mikro-Gen. Their hearts were always more with the Speccy, really, and the most interesting thing about the Bracknell-based softies is that they branched out into hardware with a bit of kit that increased the Spectrum’s memory with the goal of creating some ‘mega games’. It wasn’t a success, and if this sounds a bit familiar that’s because it is: just a few years earlier, Imagine Software had tried the same thing and it sent them bust (the proposed game, Bandersnatch, is the direct inspiration for the Black Mirror episode of the same name).

Equinox is a conversion of Raffaele Cecco’s first commercial game for the Spectrum. C64 duties were by Nick Jones who you’ll also know for Time Machine, Smash TV and Supremacy. You take control of a droid who has to clean up the planet Sury-Ani 7, which has been devastated by a leak at a nuclear plant. Playing as what is essentially a rotating tin can, you have to find the waste and take it to radioactive-proof bins at the bottom of the once-beautiful rock.

It’s more than simple collect ’em up duties though, because the humans didn’t switch off their automatic defence systems as they fled. That means security droids crawl the place and will shoot anything (you) that moves. So you’ve got to shoot them back, do some thoughtful puzzle solving, a whole heap of collecting and generally try to survive in a flick-screen adventure that’s begging you to get out some graph paper and map it.

One thing that’s really notable about Equinox is that for a game from an era famed for rock hard or just downright unfair games, here the program helps you – from the helpful introduction screens on the title sequence to the way the computer nudges you in the right direction. Here’s Raffaele:

“I think it was a well thought-out game. I mean, technically it was nothing special, but it was reasonably addictive to play. I remember it got pretty good reviews. But, you know, having your first game released in the shops is quite thrilling when you’re 17 or 18 years old. I had something tangible in my hand that I could wave at people and say, ‘Look, this is what I’ve done’, and so then for a lot of people it clicked. They would then understand what I was doing. A [Spectrum mag] Crash Smash didn’t bother me. I was just pleased I had my first game out.”

Equinox always seemed to crop up on those bumper compilations that WH Smith and Menzies stocked, and as such seems to have a reputation as being a bit of a “filler” game. That’s probably compounded by its covertape appearances across the formats, but don’t believe it: this game is great fun. PACK FACT: The game’s polluted planet is named after Rafaele’s then-girlfriend, Suryani. Er – it’s sort of nice. Isn’t it? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

WORLD CLASS RUGBY

1991 saw the UK nations, Ireland and France host the second ever rugby world cup. It was part of intensifying efforts to commercialise the sport, and two C64 games rolled out in time for the tournament. Oddly, they’re also the topic of one of Commodore Format‘s most controversial moments.

Audiogenic’s World Class Rugby is a brilliant simulator of a tough thing to reproduce on a Commodore 64. Every rule’s in there, and coder Roy Banon says every byte of memory was used, often more than once. The action is viewed from above and at a slight angle, and you’ve got the ability to play in the World Cup itself or a league or friendly game. Scrumming, passing, running and crunching is all there with the right push of the joystick. The full game’s got a fantastic two-player option and the animation of the players is excellent. Their artificial intelligence is something else for C64 and has to be experienced to be believed. It takes patience to learn the whole thing, but then that’s the game’s beauty: this is real rugby on the Commie and this month’s tape demo-d a whole match of it.

So what’s the beef? Well, CF ‘s Colin Campbell didn’t like it. He gave the game 55% and much preferred Domark’s arcade approach in Rugby: The World Cup. ZZAP! 64 disagreed very vocally, giving World Class Rugby a positive 84% and Rugby: The World Cup 36%. The Ludlow mag stirred the pot on this one for months afterwards (have a wander into their letters pages in the first half of 1992 to see what we mean).

Knocking on for 30 years later the arguments are still going (although in fairness, some websites clearly have the two games mixed up). What do we think? We think this is one time where CF got it “wrong”, as much as opinions ever can be. World Class Rugby is the most meticulously recreated sports games ever released on the Commodore. It’s hugely authentic, and to that end we can see why Colin might have preferred a less realistic arcade approach. He’s one of the few CF staff who’ve never responded to our requests for interview  – so far – but we hope that one day we might get to hear what he thinks all these years later.

Anyway, let’s put this one to bed.  World Class Rugby is excellent. Ignore the noise and see for yourself. PACK FACT: When the game was reviewed again on budget re-release in late 1993, Clur did like it. It scored 81%.

SUMMING UP

Equinox is the unsung star on this month’s tape. It’s  where you’ll get the longevity, for sure. But in the context of December 1991, the two demos here are crucial: CF scooped previews of the games everyone was waiting for. A classic example of why we’re still talking about it all after 30 years. CF

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